Tribute to Dr. Mardy Darian – A Plant Pioneer

by Sep 26, 2015General Gardening0 comments


Mardy with Licuala peltata var. sumowongii

Mardy with Licuala peltata var. sumowongii

With the recent passing of Dr. Mardy Darian a unique and irreplaceable personality who was preoccupied with plants was lost. I had always been interested in growing plants. But until I met a few true plant fanatics, I never realized where this passion would or could lead. Mardy was one of them.

After seeing the gardens and collections of a few of these individuals, my horizons were infinitely broadened. I saw plants I never knew existed, growing in places I never thought possible – creating lush landscapes and tropical vistas in their own backyards. And I knew I wanted the same.

As I became aware of plants not offered at traditional outlets, with fascinating leaf shapes and colors or exotic flowers and fragrances, I started hanging with a different crowd and visiting small specialty nurseries while bargaining with backyard growers for cuttings, seed, or picking their brains for other sources.

This was before the internet which now makes this quest much easier. And as with any such pursuit or passion, there were certain people who, due to proximity or personality, became mentors of a sort and served as examples for what could be accomplished in a garden. And it was more than I could have ever imagined on my own.

Early on I became aware of a legend in discovering and growing rare tropical plants in my Southern California Mediterranean climate. Mardy Darian was an obsessed recluse of sorts. Living in a location where even a remote glimpse of his 3 acre garden was next to impossible, I would hear about his exploits and occasionally run across an exotic plant in someone’s garden who would explain it was from Darian’s collection – discovered in the jungle of some far away land.

But alas, he was like a rock star who rarely gave performances, and when he did they were expensive or impossible to attend. But eventually I made his acquaintance, gained his acceptance, and ended up with a relationship that allowed me hundreds of visits to his garden, along with many of his stories and advice. New projects and new plants were constantly pointed out. But most of my learning came from just observing what Mardy was doing over time – and what was working and growing well, and what wasn’t.

You see, when you push the zone envelope the way Mardy did, you had many loses. Many tropical plants will just not grow in places other than the true tropics. And there is only one way to find out if they will – but it requires a truly fearless and eccentric character, unafraid of failure  – as was Mardy.

Mardy never did anything halfway. He never thought small. He was the living example of the mantra that “a man’s reach must exceed his grasp.” This is the most valuable lesson I learned from Mardy – never accept mediocrity. Many of his schemes and dreams never came to pass. But they were inspiring to consider, and were ultimately conceivable, albeit with huge investments of time and money. He was contemplating climate change, climate manipulation, and solutions long before it became mainstream.

While I could never approach his level of intensity, I am thankful that he inspired me to aim higher than I would have without meeting him. And I know he did the same for many others. He raised the bar, and all those who appreciate nature, as Mardy did, should be grateful for his decades of showing us what is acheivable.

Follow THIS LINK for various pictorials of his garden, the future of which is very much in doubt. However, regardless of the eventual fate of his garden, many of the plants and energy he introduced will live on – as will his legacy. These photos of his garden say more about him than I ever could with words.